Although it is unclear why more and more people are diagnosed with asthma each year, the condition can start at any age. Coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath are common symptoms of asthma, caused by constricted and narrowed airways that may produce extra mucus. This makes breathing increasingly difficult.
A person may seldom experience asthma attacks, while others may have more severe asthma that interferes with daily activities. Some asthma can be life threatening.
If you suspect you may have asthma, it is important to discuss it with your doctor. Some questions you may want to ask are:
- What causes asthma? Often you will have asthma if someone in your family has asthma. Allergies are also closely tied with asthma, even though the connection isn't completely understood by doctors. Respiratory infections can make you more susceptible to asthma, and environmental exposure to irritants, viruses, or allergens can play a role in developing asthma.
- How is asthma diagnosed? Your doctor may perform a few tests to measure lung function, such as spirometry (measures narrowing of bronchial tubes and how fast you can exhale after a deep breath), or a peak flow meter (measures how hard you can breathe out). Other tests may include methacholine challenge and a nitric oxide test.
- What classification or type of asthma do I have? Asthma is classified by whether or not it is intermittent or persistent and if it’s mild, moderate, or severe. There also are a few types of asthma, including:
• Exercise-induced asthma (occurs during exercise; can be worse in cold, dry environments)
• Occupational asthma (caused or worsened by breathing chemical fumes, gases, or dust)
• Allergy-induced asthma (asthma symptoms triggered by allergens like pet dander, cockroaches or pollen)
- How is asthma treated? There is no cure for asthma, but treatment includes trying to control symptoms. In managing symptoms, the goal is to avoid your asthma triggers. The doctor will often prescribe a long-term medication targeted at preventing flare-ups, and another quick-relief inhaled medication to handle symptoms when they start. Some alternative therapies (breathing technique, acupuncture, relaxation, herbal remedies, omega-3 fatty acids, and homeopathy) may provide some relief from symptoms. Work with your doctor to find the best treatment plan for your particular case.
- What is the long term risk? Asthma can lead to long term damage to the lungs. Your asthma could become worse causing the need for more medical care, or a change in your medication to avoid frequent flare-ups, signs and symptoms.
- When should I call a doctor or get immediate medical attention? It’s important to get medical help when symptoms cannot be controlled (asthma doesn’t improve after using inhaler). Asthma can be life-threatening in some cases when an attack comes on quickly and is especially severe. It is important to never overuse medication, which can also be life-threatening or cause side effects. Instead, contact your doctor or seek urgent care to help with treating your asthma.
- Any tips for living with asthma?
• avoid lung irritants (triggers like smoking, dust, pet dander, or pollutants)
• keep up with your ongoing care
• manage your asthma and the symptoms
• prepare for emergencies (know when to get medical attention and signs your asthma is getting worse)
- Is there any research I can do on my own and what sources would you recommend? Your doctors can suggest their favorite reputable web sites and support groups for obtaining more information and helping you cope with your asthma day-to-day.
This information is not meant to be a replacement for talking with your doctor. Talk with your doctor to get the full picture for your particular case.
www.americanlung.org About Asthma
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Christine Jeffries is a writer/editor for work and at heart, and lives in a home of testosterone with her husband and two sons. Christine is interested in women’s health and promoting strong women.